Most public-private partnership (PPP) trainings open with speakers who review definitions of PPPs, outline their “Dos and Don’ts,” and illustrate the path to success with dazzling Power Point presentations. But at the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s first PPP training seminar for representatives from fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS) earlier this year, we swore off business as usual in favor of an interactive discussion among participants. Throughout, we tailored the conversation to the expectations of participants, who already knew that our number one expectation was their active participation.
As soon as we kicked off the meeting, participants were encouraged to loosen their ties and scarves, prepare to tell their stories, and engage with us on the journey. It was an unusual start to a rigorous three-day training – and it worked.
Credit goes to the participants, who hailed from 14 African countries emerging from years of fragility and conflict, a number of which suffered infrastructure collapse and service delivery breakdowns. Rebuilding and expanding energy, water, and other infrastructure services was critical for reaching people with essential services and growing the businesses that create jobs and, ultimately, helping each nation distance itself from the legacy of conflict – so participants were keen to understand how PPPs could help.
The event was initiated by the PPP Transaction Advisory Services (C3P) department of IFC with the sponsorship of IFC’s Investment department focused on FCS countries. Together, we helped create and facilitate this training, and we’d like to share how this game-changing approach can benefit countries that are considering adding PPPs to the set of solutions they use to address their most important development challenges.
Prepare the ground and give participants ownership
Before we even sat down to create the training program, we wrote to those scheduled to attend and asked them to provide a list of PPP projects under consideration in their countries. These delegates filled out a matrix of potential PPP projects with a description of what was planned, and we encouraged them to submit PPP-related questions and desired topics of discussion in advance of the meeting.
We made sure these inputs reached us in plenty of time to assess the matrix internally and ask our sector leads within C3P to provide guidance. All of the assessments were shared with the appropriate country delegates during one-on-one roundtable discussions. These conversations, grounded in the “homework” we did beforehand, allowed us to dig further into aspects of the specific PPPs and agree on the next steps for possible collaboration.
The questions and topics of discussion proposed by the participants informed the way we planned and organized the workshop and gave us better insights into their unique needs. Our ability to tailor the agenda in this way ultimately led to greater levels of satisfaction among participants, who have already insisted that we return to do another training event and follow up on progress.
Involve other groups that can offer their perspective
Supporting infrastructure development in FCS countries requires broad support, and in addition to learning more about IFC’s range of services, it was equally important for participants to meet with other parts of the World Bank Group and our multilateral development bank (MDB) partners to learn how they are helping countries like theirs partner with the private sector.
So in addition to C3P’s contributions of staff time and expertise, the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), the IFC FCS Africa team (CASA), the IFC Africa Infrastructure Department, and the Environmental and Social Department for Advisory (CES), as well as the African Development Bank, joined our efforts and presented valuable topics during the seminar, enriching the exchange with the participants.
This inclusive approach was effective because it gave participants a better understanding of different perspectives and delivery solutions available to them. In the feedback on future PPP training sessions, participants suggested that we invite representatives from the private sector as well.
Prepare to learn the country context in detail
Each country faces its own unique situation; any solution must be tailored to the local context. The facilitators therefore had to get a better understanding of each country context in order to be fully responsive and helpful – and, ultimately, enable participants to be more effective in how they leverage PPPs to meet their specific development goals.
Somaliland is a good example. In Somaliland, the private sector already delivers infrastructure services, and hence the dialogue between the private sector and the government requires a different approach from other countries, where private sector participation is being introduced into sectors traditionally dominated by the public sector. Each FCS nation will invariably have a unique set of issues, so there can never be a “one size fits all” approach. Putting in the time and effort to understand the local context, sector challenges, and development goals of our clients is the first step in providing the right support.
Have an open mind and speak honestly
This is a requirement for everyone considering a PPP, but it’s especially true when the partnership is being considered in a fragile or conflict-affected state. From the start of this workshop, we stressed the importance of honesty and respect for each other. With the shared consensus that people could speak freely, participants benefitted from the resulting openness and frankness, which allowed issues that normally lurk in the background to come into the light. As a result, we were able to discuss and resolve real problems before participants even returned to their countries. It was also significant that many times solutions to PPP-related problems were offered by other participants (rather than the moderators), who shared their own positive and negative experiences in similar situations.
Once participants in this PPP training session returned to their home offices, they were more knowledgeable about PPP options for their own nations, and a number of them have since organized similarly–themed events based on the curricula developed by IFC. In some cases they invited other country representatives from around the region to contribute as well. This sort of collaborative, learning-by-doing approach serves any training well, and is especially fruitful for PPP trainings with leaders from nations that have great needs, but even greater potential.